Creation: Chapter 8

The Priesthood of Humanity

When we consider the whole evolutionary process in its panoramic intensity, we see a gradually unfolding emergence of intelligence from the humble forms of living organisms with the human as the apex of a climactic ascent. At last a focus of consciousness has emerged that can co-operate rationally with the creative process. The human was created in the image of the supreme Creator whom we may call God, so that he might lift up the world from the mortality inherent in matter to the immortality, indeed the eternity, of spirit. Physicists have pondered long over the remarkable purposefulness of creation, how, from the "big bang" 15,000 million years ago the wonderful drama of evolving species has unfolded, culminating in the marvel of human intelligence. It seems clear to many of them who would not disport religious sentiments that a higher purpose must surely have been at work that this remarkable series of events occurring over many millions of years should have attained its climax in human development, which itself is not complete. This insight is the basis of the "anthropic principle", for animal and especially human development could not have occurred in an arbitrary universe.

And yet nothing is foreordained so tightly that free will is bypassed or rendered inoperative. Just as even the most promising person may squander his gifts in vice so that his life is ruined, so may humanity at large destroy both itself and the earth if it behaves outrageously. In this respect it may be argued that only one small planet would then go up in smoke, but deeper intuitive awareness tells us that small as we are, we are all parts of a greater body of life that includes the universe itself. This "panpsychism" offends many of rigid scientific discipline as also those religious groups that frown on mysticism with its tacit universalistic tendencies (hoping that in the end all creation will be saved and that hell will not be eternal), but as we mount the ladder of prayer, so are we brought in contact with a world beyond our small compass. Intercession depends on this principle, but the realm of creation is greater than our limited personal concerns. In the divine presence nothing is separate from our concern any more than God's love can be excluded from any of his creatures. The creature may, and often does, withdraw, but the love does not wane, for love will never come to an end, as St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:8.

It seems unlikely that the creation of the human being with his enormous cerebral capacity, sufficient, as it were, to accommodate a soul that not only thinks under exigencies and plans for emergencies but also grasps in its radiance a larger vision of life in which freedom and joy may prevail, was a chance event. The human has his feet on the earth but his head is in the heavens. He is able to make a conscious contact with the Creator, and can therefore think heavenly thoughts and literally bring heaven to earth. But his carnal nature tends towards self-preservation, which soon encroaches on the lives of his weaker brethren as the lust for power and possessions dominates his thoughts. The human is therefore a spiritual animal, and both components of his nature have to be given due respect: without the body he is no use to the world, but without the spirit his intellectual capacity would be destructive to all creation. In this respect we remember Jesus' diagnosis of his disciples' condition after their poor showing at Gethsemane, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:38). We have already considered the slow, yet dramatic, process whereby a mature person is created, and how this process is intimately involved in his relationship with the Creator who can no longer be an It to manipulate but becomes a Thou in whom to rest in friendship. Only then do the divine and human wills come into juxtaposition so that the one does not dominate the other. Instead they serve one another. If the thought of God serving man seems outrageous, we should recall Jesus' statement, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

This mention of a ransom brings us to the most profound conception of human activity in the world, that of priesthood. As we read in Leviticus 4:5-6, under the Law of Moses a priest was one commissioned to offer up sacrifices for his own sins and those of the people. In addition, he taught the people and prayed for them; his consecration and ordination were of God. The sacrifice was of animals, and up to Jesus' day the dealers in pigeons and the money-changers had a legitimate place in the temple. Jesus' strong-handed action in expelling them all was not a condemnation of their trade but a comment on the way their cupidity, inevitable where commerce is involved, had polluted the atmosphere of the temple. "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a robbers' den", is the way Mark 11:17 puts it. It is noteworthy that the chief priests and doctors of the law were not grateful for Jesus' intervention, but sought a way of getting rid of him, an action not uncommon when an established clergy is criticized by someone more obviously God-centred than they.

However, there was a deeper meaning to Jesus' violent action. It, like the equally disturbing cursing of the barren fig tree, was a symbolic action. It pro-claimed the time when sacrifice would be internal and spiritual rather than external and manipulative. The cursing of the fig tree proclaimed the end of institutions that had ceased to serve a useful function and were merely parasitic on the common resources. The talents, to quote Jesus' parable of Matthew 25:14-30, are there to be used profitably; if they are not, they are distributed to those who are worthy while the incompetent servant is immediately dismissed. The story of evolution is a universal illustration of this truth.

Christ indeed came to inaugurate a new priesthood; the concept was not altered but the means were refined and spiritualized. In the great Letter to the Hebrews, one indeed of priestly magnitude, Christ is compared with Melchizedek the mysterious king of Salem who was a priest of God Most High, who blessed Abraham and to whom in turn the patriarch gave a tithe of all the booty he had taken in a local skirmish (Genesis 14:18-20). He is compared in Hebrews 7:3 to the Son of God, and he remains a priest for all time. His priesthood is of another order to that conferred on Levi and his descendants, for he lives on whereas they, mere mortals, live only an apportioned span. In Hebrews 9:11-12 the priesthood of Christ is seen to be not merely of the universe, which is finite, but of eternity. Furthermore, the blood of sacrifice is not secondhand from various animals but his own blood. And so he has entered the sanctuary once and for all and secured an eternal deliverance. By contrast, the high priest of the old dispensation had the privilege of entering into the sanctuary once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make expiation for the sins of the whole people (Leviticus 16 describes the matter in detail). In Hebrews 9:24 we come to the conclusion of the matter, "For Christ has entered, not that sanctuary made by men's hands which is only a symbol of the reality, but heaven itself, to appear now before God on our behalf".

In the person of the proper man, God was reconciling the world to himself. As Christ took on the sin of the world and gave it to God, so was humanity (and by extension the whole world) brought into a new relationship with reality, no longer dominated by the bodily nature that looks for rewards and is not ashamed to hurt other creatures for its own comfort, but inspired to look for universal healing in the power of the human spirit now fully illuminated by the Holy Spirit of God. A new vision of wholeness has been revealed, and the dignity as well as the spiritual potentiality of the human, already felt intuitively by the earliest members of the species Homo, had come truly of age. However, as we have already stated, the stature of Jesus remains unfulfilled in human nature. Apart from that select body of saints that adorn the annals of humanity - and these belong to all the great religious and cultural groups, by no means confined to those who claim a Christian allegiance - people are still largely unawakened to the potentialities for transformation lying deep within them. As Meister Eckhart and Angelus Silesius would insist, the birth of Christ in the individual soul is even more important than the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Nevertheless, the Incarnation has shown us the full union of humanity and Deity, and it is to this that we must work day by day in the honest pursuance of our particular calling.

The human acts as an intermediary. He stretches to God in his spirit and touches the earth in his body. His work is to bring down the divine splendour to the earth, at the same time lifting up the world to God, from whom alone healing and renewal can come. This is a priestly function, as yet mediated only by a professional priesthood, some of whom are still unaware of the privilege they have and the great sacrifice expected of them. In the old dispensation the sacrificial animal sufficed, but after the Incarnation and all that followed, it became clear that Christ alone could do the great work of reconciliation. But now he lives in the hearts of all true believers, and they too have the responsibility of sacrifice thrust upon them. Of no one is this more true than the priest, whose life is consecrated (set aside for or dedicated) to God. This consecration is a divine act, but the human must first give of himself wholeheartedly. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, for now our very being is under the closest scrutiny and everything unclean and perverse is brought into the open, at least of our own awareness, prior to its slow, painful, progressive and total healing. Attitudes and drives that would have been quite natural in the lower animals have to be spiritualized: while we are alive we cannot disregard the various demands of the body for nourishment, shelter and procreation (if one is not in celibate vows), but we have to be their master and no longer their slave. In this way the spirit infuses the body while being incarnate within its hospitable bounds.

The way by which this purification is achieved is a combination of prayer, communal worship and service to the larger community. Priesthood embraces all three even if the first two would seem to be the more "professional" side of the work. Prayer brings the person to the divine presence; worship pays homage to God in the midst of a believing community, while service brings down the divine power and love to the whole world. As Christ would say, "You, like the lamp, must shed your light among your fellows, so that, when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

It is in the sphere of prayer and worship that the religions of India and China, earlier on criticized for striving after ultimate states of being while large numbers of their people were living in penury, can be of great value to the West. The stress of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism on the inner way of progress is a salutory corrective to the excessive activity of the technological age. The Christian Church sometimes falls victim to an "activism" of extreme social works to the considerable exclusion of the inner way in an attempt to come to terms with the noisy, unreflecting world outside. The Far East has accepted the material benefits of Western civilization, and now quite a few thoughtful Westerners are exploring the depth of the spiritual realm by the practice of meditation techniques acquired from Eastern sources. Thus an encounter with the saints of Indian religion may illuminate insights of Christian spirituality that have been obscured by the formal dogmatism of theologians and ministers who have given little of their time to the practice of prayer. The more God is discussed, the further does his presence recede from us. The It of discursive meditation becomes the all-embracing Thou of God when we leave discussion behind and enter the silence of the present moment.

Just as the priest brings the blessing of God to the people and lifts up their sins to God, in the process offering himself as a sacrifice on the altar in imitation of his Lord, so is the human to bring the benefits of his chastened intellect to the world. While this entails scientific enlightenment that seeks to eradicate disease and rectify the results of past misdemeanours that have so damaged the natural order, there must also be a love sufficient for the person to sacrifice his very life for creation. By his action he erases the world's stain that he himself has created in no small measure. He lifts the world's agony to God, and his sacrifice initiates a reaction of world transformation. In Psalm 51:17 we read, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a wounded heart, O God, thou will not despise." God accepts this more readily than any material gift because it comes from the person directly. When Abraham was preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac to God, a substitute ram appeared in the thicket, whereas Jesus' sacrifice was absolute. Through the mediation and example of the proper man we too have to make the great sacrifice as we enter upon our sombre yet glorious priesthood of the Universal Church, which is the entirety of the universe. It is admittedly condensed into our little earth, but it is in psychic communion with the cosmos, that vast realm which includes the universe and the intermediate mental/psychic/spiritual dimension.

The enigma of moral existence is the prevalence of evil. This is something more than the suffering inherent in evolution itself, remembering that the world no less than its inhabitants is in a state of growth and its fabric is unstable, liable to natural disasters of various types. Evil, unlike natural suffering, has a moral component. While "nature red in tooth and claw" simply strives for its own survival, the evil impulse in the human works relentlessly for the downfall of his fellow creatures, often with a savage delight in the cruelty involved. Evil is never satisfied. The brutality of genocide, a number of examples of which have disfigured our technologically advanced century, emphasizes these qualities dramatically. Evil as a moral entity comes into existence only when its victim can appreciate its injustice and seek redress in some court of higher law. It is possible that highly domesticated animals can share their owners' repugnance inasmuch as they have absorbed something of the human soul consciousness.

It is very probable that the source of evil lies in the mental/psychic/spiritual realm that we touched on at the beginning of our reflections. Here work the angelic hierarchy; the good are messengers of the light of the Holy Spirit, while the debased are messengers of the evil one whom we call the devil, probably a fallen angel of immense power. All this is, of course, conjectural except to those who are psychically sensitive. Such people are especially vulnerable to assault by the dark forces but are also of enormous potential use in the conflict with evil, the rescue of endangered individuals, and ultimately the cleansing of this vast, immaterial realm which is an intermediate dimension between the divine mind and the human imagination. The origin of the perverse impulse is a mystery, but a likely explanation is the result of the free will granted the Creator to his rational creatures, which would, according to this line of argument, include the angelic hosts as well as the human being.

It would seem that the human is the intermediary for both God and the devil. The human intellect is morally neutral, capable of use for unashamed self-gratification or world service, calculated genocide or re-creation of the world free from ignorance and injustice. If one looks dispassionately at the source of the evil impulse in one's own being, one will often find insecurity very close to the surface. While one is insecure in one's own identity, one will tend to covet the riches of this world to complement one's own lack in the belief that wealth, power, or social standing are the keys to personal fulfilment and happiness. Not only will one grasp at these in the round of daily existence but one will also envy others who appear to possess them. Envy acts as a cancer of the soul, for it dominates the attention to the exclusion of more profitable concerns. As the obsession grows, so the person will shrink at nothing to realize his desires, while the seething malice within him will work to the destruction of anyone standing in his way. Murder becomes justifiable to a deranged mind which can project the person's own base motives onto the life-style or beliefs of his victim.

While this perverse psychological process is developing inwardly, the person is unwittingly connected to the demonic sources in the intermediate mental/psychic/spiritual realm. He may be used as an instrument of fearful destruction far greater than anything he imagined even in the worst frenzies of his hatred. Some deranged people actually ally themselves to the devil much as a more normal individual would pay service to the powers of light, whether or not he confessed a religious allegiance. Satanism is not rare nowadays, but its practitioners are invariably swallowed up in the evil they have mixed with through their departure from the decencies of life.

The question inevitably arises: are we in control of our lives or are we merely the playthings of vast forces using us for their own ends? Since free will is the precious gift of the Creator to his rational creature, we must accept that he alone is responsible for his actions. But he does not live in isolation. If he chooses the way of life he aligns his will to that of the Creator, but if he chooses death (not only for himself but for any other creature except in circumstances of the greatest exigency such as self-defence or self-preservation in respect of killing animals for food), he works hand in hand with the forces of darkness. Buber writes, "The primary word I-It is not of evil - as matter is not evil. It is of evil - as matter is, which presumes to have the quality of present being. If a man lets it have the mastery, the continually growing world of It overruns him and robs him of the quality of his own I, till the incubus over him and the ghost within him whisper to one another the confession of their non-salvation." In other words, while our sights are limited to the world of matter and our own physical satisfaction, we are in dangerous relationship with the forces of darkness. On the other hand, however, if we avoid all worldly temptations ("the world, the flesh and the devil"), we make no contact with matter, and our lives, though harmless, are also ineffectual both to ourselves and to the world. Security in fact comes from the Creator alone: when we rest in him we are truly safe, needing nothing else to substantiate our identity while being available to do whatever circumstances decree, without either fear or bombast.

This is both the dilemma and the glory of human priesthood. We are of the world and yet not confined by it, for our spirit inhabits eternity. In the words of Isaiah 57:15, "Thus speaks the high and exalted one, whose name is holy, who lives for ever: I dwell in a high and holy place with him who is broken and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, to revive the courage of the broken." We are close to the Creator God but are not ourselves divine; at the most there is a spark of divinity within the spirit of the soul. This spark has to burst forth to a glowing fire. The seed of Christ within has to germinate and grow into the full tree of life. We are here to lift up mortal nature to immortal radiance when we realize our priesthood in calm responsibility. But we can as easily act as priests for the demonic forces when we elevate our own interests above the good of the world. The choice is ours. Even if we choose a divine priesthood there is no infallible set of rules. St Paul comes as near the truth as anyone when he states that love cannot wrong a neighbour, therefore the whole law is summed up in love (Romans 13:10).

The problem here is the real meaning of love. Human love extends from heroic self-sacrifice to lust masquerading as affection. It is often strongly manipulative, the beloved invariably, as Buber laments, slipping from a Thou to an It. Therefore we learn to love properly from the Creator, who loved us first. Human affection and concern are reflections of this creative love, but they inevitably have their limits which are those of the flesh in its native weakness. Love is not primarily an emotion; it is an energy, a power, indeed, the very power of the Holy Spirit pouring down upon us. It does not look for acknowledgment or results because it is both cause and result. We learn the secret of love in silence when we are open to the downflow of the Holy Spirit upon our own spirit. At that moment Christ is born in us, the spark bursts into flame, and the seed puts out its first shoot.

The strange course of our earthly life is to bring us to a fulfilment of our priesthood. The encounter with evil is as important in the development of our personality as are our times of heavenly communion, for it is only thus that we can grow in experience while at the same time playing our part in lifting up matter to spirit. Just as Jesus offended the pillars of respectability by consorting with the dregs of society, so we too have to suffer many things, experience many disturbing emotions and encounter many temptations. It is noteworthy that the "good" people who detest all they regard as unclean are somewhat closer to the powers of darkness than are the less exalted members of society. This is because their very moral stringency can serve to occlude the deeper springs of compassion and love, such as the Creator has for his creatures. On the other hand, those who pride themselves on their liberal tolerance, by down-grading moral standards in the service of compassion for the deviant members of society, can also become agents of darkness when their concern for the under-dog conceals a deeper hatred of "the establishment".

Wherever there is an underlying hatred we may be quite sure that the demonic forces lurk, waiting patiently for the moment when they can explode into violence and cause general destruction. Both moral principles and liberal tolerance will rapidly go up in smoke, as the events of our century show us all too clearly. Compared with this, the efforts of occultists pale into insignificance in the evil they may produce.

The priest, elevating the elements of the Eucharist, brings consecrated matter to God, who in turn gives of himself to the congregation as they receive the bread and the wine. The very body of Christ is now within them. The remainder of both priest's and congregation's lives is devoted to their growing sanctity, which must flow out to embrace all people, indeed all creation. As they grow in their own darkness, so they see the light more distinctly. As they know their own humiliation, so they can participate more understandingly in the mortification of the world as it "groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth" (Romans 8:22). In this way, following the vocation of the professional priest, humanity is raised up to God so that its own priesthood may be established and fulfilled. "You shall be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). These words spoken by Moses as God's prophet to the Israelites were brought a stage nearer fulfilment for all people by the advent of Christ, but until the Creator Spirit is fully upon and within them, they cannot perform the great work of healing the universe.

Chapter 9
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